by on May 15, 2024

What is a Habit? 

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Do you slide into a pair of slippers? Take a sip of water? Open the curtains? What’s the last thing you do before you go to sleep? Do you brush your teeth? Set an alarm? Turn off the lights?

It’s very likely that you start and end your day with a habit. At times, we can tend to think about habits in a negative way, but really, habits help us carry out simple tasks that enable us to survive. According to Psychology Today, “a habit is an automatic behavior that you do without thinking.” It’s like a muscle memory. We carry out habits in the same way that we blink or breathe – without conscious thought. For this reason, habits have a significant impact on our lives, and we must consider how they affect our spiritual growth.

How are Habits Created? 

We know from psychological and scientific research that habits are created as a response to a stimulus. For example, when you wake from sleep to an alarm, you know it’s time to start your day. Your alarm becomes the stimulus, and you likely respond by turning it off. That’s a habit! In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear describes these stimuli as “cues.” According to Clear, “The cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue.” If this is true, it’s important to notice our cues.

Cues often have some type of auditory or visual component. For example, when you receive a text message, your phone will likely light up with a notification, and maybe even make a noise. This cue prompts you to read the message. Perhaps the message is from a friend or relative, wanting to make dinner plans. This message elicits a response. The reward for your response is dinner with someone important to you. Because of this reward, you will be more likely to check your text messages the next time you receive a cue.

When it comes to our spiritual lives, the question is how we intentionally create healthy cues that prompt us to respond in ways that lead to growth in our relationship with Jesus. As you consider your own habits, cues, and responses, let’s consider the habits we see Jesus demonstrate throughout the Gospels…

The Habits of Jesus

While the Gospels only give us a snapshot of the life Jesus lived here on earth, we see three distinct habits that He displayed during His ministry: withdrawing, praying, and fasting. How might these habits become a blueprint to help us to better know and understand Jesus? And how can we implement them into our own lives?


Time and time again, the Gospels tell us that Jesus “withdrew” or went to “desolate” places,” most often to pray. Interestingly, Jesus’ moments of solitude often came after large events or miracles, when He was being pursued by many people. For example, in Matthew 14:23, Mark 6:46-47, and John 6:15, we see Jesus withdraw after feeding the 5,000. In the same way, we see Him seek places of solitude after healing Simon’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:35, Luke 4:42), and after healing a man with leprosy (Luke 5:16). In both cases, many others sought Jesus to heal them as well and, in retreating, He had to turn many away.

Jesus was a master at setting boundaries. He knew how to say “no” to good things in order to say “yes” to better things. Jesus’ habit of saying “yes” to secluded time with the Father was the “yes” He needed to sustain His earthly ministry. He never stayed in seclusion, but that time of communion sustained His ministry to come. After healing Simon’s mother-in-law, we read that many people were looking for Jesus, likely seeking healing for themselves. When the disciples told Jesus of all those needing His attention, He surprisingly responded by saying “no.” In Mark 1:37, the disciples tell Jesus that everyone is looking for Him, yet instead of going back to those people, Jesus tells His disciples it’s time to move on to other towns.

Like Jesus, we all have important needs and responsibilities vying for our attention every day. Where in your life do you need to say “no,” so you can say “yes” to giving your attention to what’s best? How might you create a habit of intentionally withdrawing to spend time with the Lord so He can provide wisdom and sustain you for the “good works, which [He] has prepared in advance for [you] to do” (Ephesians 2:10)?


Not only did Jesus demonstrate a habit of prayer when He withdrew, but He also demonstrated it in various other aspects of His life and ministry. The most famous example of prayer in the Gospels is the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus exemplifies how we should pray. It’s a prayer that declares who God is and brings our own requests before His throne. But, throughout His ministry, Jesus also exemplified the importance of praying communally – both with and for others. We see that He prayed for children (Matthew 19:13), He healed the demon-possessed through prayer (Mark 9:29), and He prayed for Simon’s faith (Luke 22:31-32). Maybe the most noteworthy prayer of Jesus on the behalf of others was when He was nailed to the cross, and He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 22:34).

Jesus also prayed with and in the presence of His disciples. On the night Jesus was betrayed, he ate the Passover meal with His disciples, where He instituted what we now observe as communion. We see that, before taking the bread and the cup, Jesus gave thanks. Surrounded by his twelve closest friends, even one who was about to betray Him, He ushered His friends into the throne room of God through prayer.

In what ways are you incorporating prayer into your everyday life? How might you be more intentional about praying with and for others? Some find that keeping journals or notecards of requests help them to keep the needs of others before them. Others may use an app like PrayerMate to give reminder cues to make the habit of prayer easier. When are you regularly surrounded by other people? How might you use those times to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16)?


While we only see one instance of Jesus Himself fasting, we know that He expects us to fast. Fasting can be defined as voluntarily giving something up to follow and connect with God more fully. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus fasts from eating for 40 days and 40 nights while being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Where Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptation in the garden, Jesus overcomes temptation in the wilderness. By fasting, He allows Himself to fully depend on the Father to meet His needs, declaring that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:3).

A few verses after Jesus demonstrates The Lord’s Prayer, He also gives instructions for fasting: 

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “if you fast…” He says, “when you fast…” Jesus expects us to voluntarily set aside distractions so that we can more fully focus on Him. One example Jesus gives of this expectation is when He speaks of our waiting for His return. He uses the illustration of a bride waiting for her bridegroom as an illustration for the Church waiting for Christ to fulfill His promise to make all things new (see Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:20, and Luke 5:35). Jesus tells His disciples that, when the bridegroom is taken away (speaking of His death, resurrection, and ascension), they will fast as they wait for His return.

This is a beautiful application for us today. Waiting is something we all have in common. We are all waiting for the Lord’s return but, in addition to that, no matter who we are or what season we’re in, we are all waiting on something. Is there anything that has become a distraction for you in your waiting? Have you found yourself looking for your needs or desires to be met in something or someone other than Jesus? What is one thing you could voluntarily give up – if only for a season – so that you can more fully connect with and depend on God, remembering that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6)?

Every Day Starts Today

No change happens overnight so it’s important to give ourselves grace, taking it one day at a time and one change at a time. Start small. Choose one holy habit you want to cultivate in your life, and brainstorm ways to make it easy. One tool you might want to consider using is a habit tracker, such as this one, or an app like Streaks that will send you reminders throughout your day. Find small ways to reward yourself as you go, and over time, these small, everyday actions will turn into habits that will change your life.